Vietnamese teen boys crazy about weed

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Tobacco from cigarettes is mixed with crumbled weed to roll a joint that has become popular among teenage boys in Hanoi

Young boys in Hanoi have taken to "fragrant weed" made from the flowery tops of cannabis, a trend that at least one doctor says is cause for some concern.

Smokers say the weed has picked up in popularity as it is cheap, easily available and can be passed off as smoking tobacco.

A high school student, N.T.A., who says he quit after more than two years, said weed smokers usually go in group and there is a lot of empathy. "When one laughs, others join in, and the same thing happens if one cries."

He also said many small beverage shops on Hanoi streets allow young people to smoke weed publicly, as it only looks like they are smoking cigarettes.

A Vietweek reporter spotted a group of students enjoying a smoke after school at a shop near the Notre Dame Cathedral.

One boy crumbled some dry branches of the "fragrant weed" in one palm with his thumb, mixed it with tobacco from cigarettes, and rolled the mixture in cigarette paper.

Q.T., a high school student who has been smoking the weed for nearly two years now, said once a student is already smoking cigarettes, "it's very normal" that he starts smoking fragrant weed soon.

He said smokers feel very thirsty after smoking and can drink copious amounts of water, and after drinking, the fragrance of the weed would induce them to smoke again.

He said he and other students use the weed as it is as normal as cigarettes and only "slightly addictive."

The weed is called "battery" at shops in Hanoi, and is sold for between VND150,000 and 170,000 (US$7.20-8.16) a pack, which can last a smoker four days.

"One just needs to change from having pho and smoothie for breakfast to sandwiches and iced tea and he will save enough for a pack," T. said.

Some users said smoking the fragrant weed is not always a happy experience.

Nguyen Duc, a college freshman, said "Every time I smoke, I forget everything. Then I feel fatigued and would sleep for several hours.

"During the first months, I ate a lot and it never felt full, but after more than a year, I have been eating much less than normal."

Dr. Nguyen Khac Dung, a psychiatrist, said the private hospital he works for has recently received a lot of young people with problems like "slight detachment, uncontrolled emotions such as sudden sadness or happiness for no apparent reason, and short memory losses."

He said, users call the weed "brain eraser," since they can end up looking ignorant and silly after sometime.

Dung also claimed the weed can decrease libido among men who use a lot of it.

"˜Contaminated' weed

Smokers say weed sold on the market is sometimes mixed with other substances including glue for profit, so long-term users grow the plant by themselves at home.

Several users said weed packs sold on the street also contain seeds that grow easily.

"It's as easy as growing potted plants," said Q.C., a high school student.

"Just scatter the seeds and water the soil regularly to maintain humidity. You can harvest after around three months."

Users believe home-grown weed is of good quality and would protect them from any health problems.

It is sold for nearly VND27 million ($1,300) a kilogram among the users, Vietweek found.

One of the traders, D.A., a second-year college student from the northern highlands province of Lang Son, where a lot of marijuana is grown, refused to talk about his business.

He said he started by sharing weed with several friends as a gift. He also refused to show the Vietweek reporter his marijuana garden.

Hanoi police said they are aware of the situation, but it is hard to spot those who are smoking weed from cigarette smokers.

Under Vietnamese law, producing or storing 500 grams of cannabis or more is a criminal offence.

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